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The State of Pollution in Romania: Waste, Recycling, and Clean-up

In 2020, we are used to life altering headlines coming out every week. It often seems that the impossible continues to happen week in and week out. For many of us in the United States, these headlines have lately been concerned about two primary topics: COVID-19 and the upcoming Presidential Election. While these are very pressing and important topics, we are only so concerned with them due to their potential impact on our daily lives. Many people in other countries see both similar and different daily news headlines that affect them just as much as our headlines affect us. It is important that we, as global citizens, stay up to date on global headlines to learn more about how we can impact our global community. 

All around the world people from different continents, countries, cultures, and communities, experience different occurrences every day that affect their lives on a regular basis. With this in mind, it is important to educate ourselves on the various concerns and headlines that come out of other countries, especially in developing and undeveloped nations. Understanding this helps us see how we can make a difference for those in difficult situations, as well as educate individuals on how to better their lives. As citizens of a first world country, we have a moral duty to help those in situations that may be more difficult than our own. Keeping up to date on these global headlines allows us to be cognizant of global matters and shows us how we can help others in difficult situations. 

Right now, the Romanian people are in need of helping hands from across the globe to help them through their country’s humanitarian and environmental turmoil. Their environment is killing them, quite literally. In a time of COVID-19 where everyone is concerned about public health, it has been reported that 19% of the deaths registered in Romania were due to environmental related problems (1). This is significant because it shows the desperate need for action in three of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals:

  1. Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  2. Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production Patterns
  3. Goal 13: Climate Action

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (6)

Waste

One of the biggest contributors to this issue facing Romanians today is waste. Waste actively contributes to pollution and pollution related illnesses/deaths, especially when it is left in water. Pollution affects the local ecosystem, livelihoods based off of the land, and human health. The following chart displays statistics that put into perspective just how long waste stays in our ecosystems (2). Waste comes from a variety of places, however it is mostly due to improper waste management. This points to Romania’s ailing waste management processes. Its recycling rates, which will be further elaborated below, show how much work there is to be done when it comes to proper waste management. If Romania’s recycling was up to par with other European nations, its waste problem might not be as bad as it is. This is a country wide issue that needs to be addressed in order to combat the waste problem. In 2019 the National Environmental Guard of Romania also found “3,837 sites with uncontrolled landfills, with a total area of 1,384,980 square meters, and 495 cases of failure to submit mandatory declarations to the Environmental Fund” (3). It is easy to see how waste enters waterways and affects communities when over 3,000 sites in one country were found to be uncontrolled. 

                  Waste TypeYears on Earth
One Dose of Aluminum100 Years
PET (polyethylene terephthalate plastics)450 Years
Bag of Chips75 Years
Bottle of WaterUp to 1 Million Years

Table  Lifespan of Plastics on Earth (2)

Using the information provided above, it is easy to see why Romanians are so concerned about pollution in their country. Alarmingly, the situation has become so severe that the European Commission has opened infringement proceedings against the Country of Romania for its pollution, wood, and waste management issues (3). The steps that the country and region actively take now to solve this crisis will directly impact their kids, and generations to come.

20110523_12 Dog walking on landfill near Bucharest, Romani… | Flickr

 Landfill Near Bucharest (7)

 The Cleanup & Solutions

On Saturday, August 29th, 2020 Act for Tomorrow organized a waste cleanup of the Olt Riverbank. In just five hours of cleanup, the volunteers managed to remove 1,500 Kg of trash in over 200 bags. The cleanup crew was able to successfully move around the riverbank by using small boats and kayaks (2). This is an example of how a successful local clean up, that when repeated and expanded, can make a difference in Romania’s waste problem. Obviously, much more work needs to be done to have an overall positive net impact on Romania’s waste problem, but local cleanups like this can inspire communities to take action as a whole against waste. 

Olt River Clean-up (2)

Recycling, when done properly, is one easy way to eliminate plastics from reaching landfills, waterways, habitats, and other places where they sit for years and harm the environment. We measure a country’s ability to recycle by its recycling rate. In 2018, Romania’s recycling rate was reported to be at 13.89%, with about 739,384 tons of recyclables (3). This seems quite small when contrasted with its European Union counterparts. Other countries such as Austria, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland at 63%, 62%, 58%, and 51% recycling rates respectively, put into perspective how much room Romania has for improvement (4). Recycling is important because it inherently solves Romania’s pollution problem more so than any other option at this point in time. If the plastics are prevented from ever reaching the landfills and waterways that they plague today, then less work will be needed in the future to restore these ecosystems to healthy, waste free environments.

Lastly, if the indelible goal is to improve the pollution-by-waste problem in Romania, then local support is going to be needed in order to successfully restore its ecosystems to their full glory. This is why it is important to note that 42% of Romanians believe that protecting the environment should be a priority even if it slows economic growth (5). When trying to tackle large systemic issues, such as improper waste management, it is vital to have a strong encouragement in order to push for real change. In order to have an overall net positive effect on the world, we all need to come together and support each other as we work through our environmental problems. One of the biggest ways that we can help the pollution problem in Romania is by spreading awareness about the issue. As global support grows, so does Romania’s ability to fight its pollution issues and restore their beautiful waterways and dense woodland areas to a healthier and pollution-free state that they once were in. Individuals can support Romania’s effort by following @ideasforus.romania on Instagram! Donations are also greatly appreciated and can be given by clicking here

IDEAS for Us Romania

 IDEAS for Us: Focus Areas

Sources:

(1). https://balkaninsight.com/2020/09/08/bosnia-albania-romania-top-european-pollution-related-deaths-ranking/

(2). https://business-review.eu/greenrestart/romanias-waters-and-their-shores-should-not-look-like-landfills-212856

(3). https://business-review.eu/greenrestart/the-state-of-waste-management-in-romania-plenty-of-work-remains-to-be-done-212632

(4). https://www.eea.europa.eu/about-us/competitions/waste-smart-competition/recycling-rates-in-europe/image_view_fullscreen

(5). https://www.romania-insider.com/study-romanians-environment-protection

(6). https://news.un.org/en/story/2015/12/519172-sustainable-development-goals-kick-start-new-year

(7). https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/6077071840